Silicon Valley Real Estate: Modest Homes, Steep Prices

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In the 1970s, the term “Silicon Valley” was first used by a journalist to describe an area south of San Francisco where a market of silicon chip makers was emerging. From Hewlett-Packard and Apple to Google, Facebook and now dozens of big and small companies, this portion of California has boomed to become synonymous with tech. Perhaps because of it, the area has also become synonymous with high-end real estate.

This 1,899-square-foot home has 3 beds, 2.5 baths and is listed for over $1.5 million.

This 1,899-square-foot Silicon Valley home has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths and is listed for more than $1.5 million.

Ranging from south of San Francisco, east to Alameda County and south to Santa Clara, these Bay Area cities are high-priced and high-powered — and have been for the past decade.

“I’ve spent 10 years working in Silicon real estate, and it’s always been a very vibrant market,” said real estate agent Arthur Sharif of Sotheby’s International Realty.

Vibrant is one way to put it. Median home values range from $1.687 million in Palo Alto to $3.193 million in Los Altos Hills, and they’re rising; in Palo Alto alone, values are increasing by 19 percent year-over-year.

So what’s selling in Silicon Valley? Simply put, everything, Sharif says.

From huge estates in the hills that appeal to venture capitalists, to green, modern homes in the communities surrounding corporate headquarters, houses are flying off the market.

In Palo Alto, $950,000 gets you a 1,000-square-foot, 3-bed, 1-bath home.

In Palo Alto, $950,000 gets you a 1,000-square-foot, 3-bedroom, 1-bath home.

Despite the income of many of the buyers, and the homes available to them, Sharif says many Silicon Valley employees don’t buy elaborate, extravagant homes. One such example is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Forbes estimates Zuckerberg’s net worth to be $13.3 billion, but he bought a home for $7 million.

“It’s a $7 million home, which would be palatial somewhere else, but here it’s not a big deal,” Sharif said. “Zuckerberg could buy whatever he wants, but his home, like his wardrobe, is understated.”

Although many of the younger buyers want modern or eco-friendly homes, the area doesn’t allow for a lot of new building, explained Sharif. So many of the buyers, and potentially Zuckerberg, buy with the intention to remodel.

As for the giant, wooded estates in the hills of Silicon Valley: Those, says Sharif, catch the eye of venture capitalists.

A more stately home is typical of the Los Altos Hills. This estate is listed for

A more stately home typical of the Los Altos Hills area. This estate is listed for $10.5 million.

“Sometimes they’re European or from the East Coast, and so they want properties with more of an East Coast feel, something you would find in Cape Cod or the Hamptons,” he said.

“The most expensive sale this year was $117 million,” Sharif continued. “A year and a half ago, I sold a home in Los Altos Hills for $100 million — but those folks were venture capitalists.”

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Erika Riggsa real estate writer for Zillow Blog, covers celebrity real estate, unusual properties and home design trends. Read more of her work here.


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